Our calendar year is organized around the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and our Lord's Second Coming. If we were Jewish and had lived three thousand years ago, then our lives would have been organized around Jewish festivals. Passover would kick off the New Year followed immediately by the Feasts of Unleavened Bread and First Fruits. Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles would take us through the rest of our year. Life without these celebrations would seem as hollow as a household that never celebrated Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, the 4th of July, or the Superbowl. If one were to rob a family of these markers, then life would be stripped of so much joy, social anchoring, and all that attached us to the important elements of our Jewish heritage.
After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the Christian church began to grow subsequent to the Day of Pentecost. The early Christian church included both Jewish people and non-Jewish folks. It was a paradoxical blend of those who looked the part and those who did not. Pretend for a moment that you were a Jewish Christian from that first generation of believers. You had grown up with circumcision, Passover, the Day of Atonement, the Nazarite vows, and the whole nine yards of all things Jewish. Your Messiah has come and now His church is growing, but there is a nagging, writhing problem. In the back of your mind you can't shake this uncomfortable feeling that many in the community calling themselves Christians just don't understand anything Jewish. They eat the wrong kind of food. They are too active on the Sabbath, and they sing the wrong kind of songs. Not a one of them knows a single word to any of the great Hallel! This is completely unacceptable. It is analogous to an "American" not knowing who George Washington was or what the Stature of Liberty looks like or who Babe Ruth played for. That kind of person is an American in name only. Similarly, these Gentile-Christians must be believers in name only because they don't know anything about Moses, the greatest and most famous of men from our divine past. Moses led us out of slavery from Egypt by means of a blood sacrifice that killed off our enemies and delivered us from Pharaoh. How can Gentiles understand the significance of blood and deliverance unless they are taught Passover? This is certainly the biggest problem but not the only one.
Right after Passover we Jews observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The removal of leaven from the home has for thousands of years reminded us of God's removal of the iniquity of our sins from the life of His people. These ethnic Christians, completely ignorant of this important aspect of our Messiah's deliverance, have no other method of learning about how God removes sin from the society of believers and how that removal is directly connected with the bloody deliverance from enslavement. My frustration only grows as I think about the many wonderful years our families celebrated the Feast of First Fruits. Right on the heels of remembering the great deliverance and the "un-leavened" separation of sin, we always dedicated First Fruits. All of us observed this "resurrection" as a finally freed people, by returning to God the first products of a new crop. There is simple no way for a pagan Christian to learn about the new, slavery-free existence, unless he is taught this wonderful Feast of First Fruits. Harvest time was more than an education in regeneration. It was a living apprenticeship, connected with the soil, from which emerged a wonderful gift offered back to God with praise and thanksgiving. For the first time (reenacted each year) we could offer to God something coming out of the ground made acceptable to Him through no merit of our own (our first good thing - our first fruit).
Our Jewish calendar is so full of theological truths like deliverance from slavery, separation from sin, and the gift of a new life capable of pleasing God, that to call these non-Jewish Christians who simply believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ equal to us is more than insulting. It is dangerous, watered down, and flat out wrong.
If these three holy days were the sum total of our precious past, then I might not be so spun up because we could quickly get our indigenous brothers up to speed. But our church year isn't even half over. The Feast of First Fruits is followed by Pentecost! That's right. They call themselves Christians and don't know a thing about arguably the second most important event in the history of the world. Moses is most famous for the parting of the Red Sea, but that's just because of Hollywood. The real magic happened at the base of Mt.Sinai. The church was first born at the foot of that mountain. God called Moses up into the mountain and there gave him His law in a miraculous fashion. The people of God were constituted around this crucial event, the giving of the Ten Commandments. That decisive moment is burned into the hearts and minds of every good Jew as the central event of salvation history (until, of course, the events of these last days). How can anyone in good conscience call themselves a Christian and not know about Moses and the Ten Commandments? The only way to inculcate the theology of God's laws, descending as if from heaven in the arms of God's greatest prophet, is to teach Moses.
Here are my complaints so far: 1) no knowledge of the connection between a lamb being sacrificed and escape from prision, 2) no understanding of how this deliverance is immediately connected with the removal of sin from the home, 3) no discerning and appreciation for the blessed concept of resurrection, and 4) no method of grasping the consuming fire that is God's holiness summarized in the Ten Commandments.
The church is growing so rapidly, and many people are hearing the message of Christ crucified for the sins of the world, but does this message contain all that is necessary? Is it not a it watered down? You be the judge as I continue with another great moment in our calendar. The Feast of Trumpets.
The Feast of Trumpets is a highly underrated gem of a celebration. When the trumpet shall sound, we have all been taught, is the moment of God's final judgement. All nations will be summoned before His thrown, and the verdict will be read out loud. And what is that verdict? We win and our enemies lose! Who doesn't want to hear that year after year after year? The Passover lamb and the eight-day circumcision have been deeply pounded into our hearts and minds for centuries and so has this rehearsing of the sweet sounding proclamation, yes, a clarion shouting of victory. The Gentiles know nothing of it. We win while Satan and his forces lose. There is simply no other way to drill this message home. We must bring our Gentile brothers into the Jewish world. How can the standalone message of Jesus, resurrected from the grave and ascended into heaven, capture the excitement and holy pride of hearing that your nation is unique and a people for God's own possession? We are the people He wants to trumpet. Just like a proud father saying, "Look at my kids." The Apostle Paul is leaving all this out. He is telling the Gentiles about Christ and Him crucified, but they have got to be given more! So, more is coming...
The Day of Atonement remains a favorite for many of us. As the calendar year winds down our most important representative, the High Priest, goes to a special place that none of us is allowed to see, eliciting faith, and there, blood is shed and sense of collective forgiveness is nowhere more demonstrated. Even though unseen by our eyes, a different kind of vision is called upon to trust that God is true to His Word and promises to forgive us because of the sacrifice behind the veil. How are the souls of these poor Gentiles ever going to be anchored in certainty if they don't know about God's great Day of Atonement? Is the content of a great, mysteriously hidden sacrifice, taking place in the abode of God's holiest, captured by the message of Jesus dying on the cross? For the Apostle Paul's sake I hope so, but I would feel better about incorporating some Jewish festivals into their Christianity. Even if we just started with this last one, Tabernacles, it would be a step in the right direction. The Feast of Tabernacles is the last big celebration of the year. For forty years God demonstrated His special attachment to our ancestors by being visibly present in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Every year our families would spend a week hanging out together in a tent remembering the wilderness wandering and God's special presence in His Tebernacle. In America today many people do something similar when they go camping in the Sierra Mountains. It was during that week of Tabernacles that our folks would strengthen our understanding of the uniqueness of our nation as well as emphasis the arrival, not of a flame in our midst, but the person of the Messiah. How much is lost to those who only know of Jesus but have no other way of connecting who He is to the intimate, exclusive, and confidence-building presence that recalling Tabernacles imparts?
In summation, we are living in a time period when the message of God's salvation is spreading rapidly in the whole world and yet at the same time so many people are missing out on the theology of the following: 1) a vicarious sacrifice connected to blood, 2) an offering that removes sin, 3) a return to life, 4) the creation of a separated people uner the umbrella of divine laws, 5) a victorious nation confident in the coming announcement of acquittal, 6) a forgiveness that is not only personal and individual but collective, and 7) God is with us, among us, yes, even in us. How can this wonderful comfort and theological abundance be found in connection with one man? How can Jesus be everything?
Does preaching Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection encompass everything contained in these seven feasts (not to mention the contents of the whole old Testament)? It is as if these Apostles think that Jesus is every word from God the Father. Their preaching says that if one properly understands the life of this man from Nazareth, then everything God has ever said to us would also be comprehended. It is as if we are being told that Jesus is every piece of the puzzle. Apportioned out over these many years (what we call Old Testament history), our heavenly Father has been construction a single image. Jesus is somehow the icon of God, His one divine event mediated through human diversity. God spoke in the Bible through a variety of prophets in many portions and in many ways. In each of these disclosures a different perspective of the person from Bethlehem has been revealed. Every time period in history has disclosed another facet of the work of Jesus. From the details of the first creation in Genesis to the life of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Jonah, and Daniel, a slowness of heart and dullness of mind is at work to not see the story of redemption in every detail. Every word of God has been tested by Him and has met the criteria of proclaiming the one message heaven has always been shouting.
Jesus is our Passover. He is also our separation from sin, our un-leavening, our rebirth, our first acceptabe self. He is our divine law, not just thunderously given but perfectly kept. He is our resounding victory on the last day. The Day of Atonement has always been the moment Jesus cried, "It is finished." It is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us. That proclamation is the consummated Feast of Tabernacles. Christ is the whole ball of wax. He is the beginning and the end. He is the first and last letter of everything God has spoken. If you try to take Jesus out of the Bible you will have nothing left. If you try to find anything other than Christ in the Bible you have fabricated something from your own imagination. Paul and the other Apostles got it right. Jesus, in all his fullness, encompasses every last feast, regulation, ritual, wisdom, poem, and promise, from the Old Testament. Finding something other than Christ in God's Word is an inherent contradiction because Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the whole shebang, the whole kit and caboodle, the complete shooting match. For by Him and through Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, all things have been created through Him and for Him. For by Him and through Him and to Him are all things. This is Paul's way of saying there is nothing else. Jesus is all things Jewish.
Next month Pastor Martin Noland will be arriving to serve us here in San Mateo. When I was three years old, he was my older brother's best friend. I tagged along as they played hide and go seek in the church parking lot. Years later the Reverend Noland was the first person to introduce me to Greek, and he was the first teacher to show me the Scriptures from a Christ-centered perspective. If you don't like this kind of cover letter for Grace notes and the idea of encompassing everything inside of the person and work of Christ, then blame him when he arrives.
God's continued richest blessings as we await the arrival of a truly wonderful shepherd who will keep before our minds eye the comfort and blessing of our greatest Shepherd.
In Jesus's name.